Jacob Zuma rejects claims of corrupt links with three brothers

Three Gupta brothers are alleged to have offered South African ministries for favours

President Jacob Zuma answering questions in parliament in Cape Town on March 17th: it is claimed his close friends the Gupta brothers offered the finance ministry in exchange for favours. Photograph: Mike Hutchings

President Jacob Zuma answering questions in parliament in Cape Town on March 17th: it is claimed his close friends the Gupta brothers offered the finance ministry in exchange for favours. Photograph: Mike Hutchings

 

Interest in this weekend’s meeting of the African National Congress’s top decision-making body has ramped up following accusations an influential Indian family close to President Jacob Zuma is offering ministerial posts in return for favours.

In parliament on Thursday, Zuma tried to quell the scandal by insisting he was the only one who appointed government ministers during a question-and-answer session with MPs. Suspicions around the nature of the relationship between Gupta brothers Ajay, Atol and Rajesh and Zuma have circulated since Zuma was appointed South African president in 2009. However, it was not until this week two senior ANC members substantiated rumours the Guptas offered ministerial posts for favours.

An article in South Africa’s Sunday Times last weekend alleging the Guptas had offered the job of finance minister to deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas two weeks before his boss Nhlanhla Nene was removed was confirmed on Wednesday.

“Members of the Gupta family offered me the position of minister of finance to replace then-minister Nene,” Jonas said in a statement, adding “I rejected this out of hand” as it makes “a mockery of our constitution”.

Currency freefall

Zuma’s decision to remove Nene in mid-December sent the local currency, the rand, into freefall and wiped billions of euro off the value of the local stock exchange, the JSE. Nene was seen as a steady hand in the finance ministry, one who was trying to introduce fiscal discipline to government- and state-run enterprises.

The firing of Nene shocked the economy so greatly that Zuma was forced to remove the man he had just appointed to the job after just three days – the little-known ANC backbencher Des van Rooyen. He proceeded to replace him with the respected former finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

To make matters worse for Zuma, Democratic Alliance member Johann Abrie asked on Facebook how many ministers had been offered jobs by the Guptas, and he received an explosive response from former ANC MP and public enterprises committee chairwoman Vytjie Mentor.

Mentor wrote on Abrie’s Facebook wall that, in 2010, they asked her to become “minister of public enterprises when Barbara Hogan got the chop, provided I would drop the SAA flight route to India and give it to them”. “I refused, so I was never made a minister,” she added. “The president was in another room when they [the Guptas] offered me this in Saxonworld (sic), [the Guptas’ family home in Joburg].”

Mentor has since confirmed she stands by her comments and can provide proof of her allegations if the Guptas follow through on their threat to take legal action against her.

On Monday ANC policy head Jeff Radebe would not discuss the Sunday Times article, but his comments suggest the ruling party is very concerned about the Guptas’s relationship with their president.

“My understanding is that about two weeks ago, the top six ANC officials met with the Gupta family,” he told reporters. He expected a report on the meeting this weekend.

With local elections looming and Zuma facing a variety of scandals, another involving claims of corruption is far from ideal. The decisions at this weekend’s national executive meeting will be telling in terms of his strength in the party.

Zuma has never denied he has a friendly relationship with the Guptas, but both parties maintain there is nothing untoward. The Guptas have issued statements saying the allegations are lies, and represent attempts at point-scoring by factions in the ruling party.

Athul Gupta arrived in South Africa from India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh in Saharanpur in 1993 and the others followed over five years.

They were small businessmen back home but, through their parent company Sahara Group, which has no links to the other Indian conglomerate of the same name, they have interests in computers, mining, air travel, energy, technology and media. According to reports, they first met Zuma 13 years ago when he was a guest at one of Sahara’s annual parties. In the past, one of the president’s wives, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, has worked for them, while his daughter Duduzile Zuma was a director at Sahara Computers. Zuma’s son, Duduzane, is also a director and major shareholder in some Gupta-owned companies.

State contracts

The Guptas have rarely been far from controversy as they have been accused of using their political connections to place themselves above the law and gain state contracts. In April 2013, a commercial plane carrying about 200 guests going to a Gupta wedding landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base near Johannesburg. It is illegal for civilian planes to land at Waterkloof.

It was alleged Zuma gave the Guptas the go-ahead to land the plane at the base. Zumahas denied this.

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